Family / News & Politics / Parenting

We can be heroes

superheroes02

On the Saturday after that Friday in Newtown, I had to teach my 4th graders at the Hebrew School.  Usually, we teach on Sundays, but this past week, our regularly scheduled Sunday class was preempted by our quarterly Saturday family program.   Every few months, parents join their children in class activities surrounding a particular theme to learn together and connect with our school community.  Saturday’s theme, a theme set months before that Friday in Newtown, was Heroism.

I was not looking forward to the class given the circumstances.  Facilitating conversations surrounding Hurricane Sandy and Gaza had been challenging enough for this morah (teacher).  This time, I couldn’t guarantee that I’d be able to hold it together.  I still can’t talk about, read articles, watch news reports without crying.

The other 4th grade teacher who is a seasoned professional and creative guide throughout my first year teaching this particular age provided the lesson plan. I was to present statements about heroism, and the kids and parents would stand on a number line on the floor indicating how much they agreed or disagreed with the statement.  According to the plan, everyone would take a position, and conversation would then ensue.  Indeed, it did.

We engaged in fascinating conversations about what makes a hero using statements like:  When you do what is commanded you by religion (in Judaism, do “mitzvot”), you are a hero.  A hero is someone who makes a small difference.  You can only be a hero when your actions are intentional.  I have some characteristics of a hero in me.

How a teacher loves watching those apples that have not, in fact, fallen far from their trees.  How entertaining it is to see the kids thoughtfully disagreeing with their parents and engaging in debates with them.  Even more fun was listening to the kids standing on a number far from the majority of the class offering perspectives that made everyone say, “Huh!  Never thought of that.”

The last statement I offered brought the exercise close to home.

My parents are heroes.

“This one is for grown-ups, too,” I reminded them.

Every single kid indicated strongly that their parents were absolutely heroes.  “Because they gave birth to me,” was the most popular explanation.  I could have challenged them with,  “But what about parents who have adopted?”  or “If your mother gave birth to you, does that make her more of a hero than your father?”  But I didn’t.  I knew what they meant.  They were not talking about the physical act of birth though there are plenty of examples of heroic birth-giving.  Parents are heroes to them because their parents chose to be parents (as far as they know) and are responsible for their existence.  Parents do what they need to do to raise their children in a loving environment.

The second most popular reason that they gave for why their parents are heroes was, “because they keep us safe.”  The first time a student shared that with me, I paused for momentary throat constriction and eyeball searing, forced a smile and responded, “Yes, they keep us safe.”  “We do our best,” I thought. 

Meanwhile, back a few spots on the number line, every single grown up stood on a degree of disagreement.  Not one parent in the class agreed that their parents were heroes.  Was that our fate, too?  Once our children understand our failings and our humanity, will we no longer be their heroes?  Hopefully, should all go well, they’ll love and respect us, but heroism may take on a different meaning for them.  It’s understandable.

I’m a teacher and a parent, and I have no doubt that I’d do anything to keep my students and my children safe.  But when my boys become men (and most likely before that), they will see me for who I am, a mom who tries hard and makes mistakes but who always loves them.  If that doesn’t meet their hero criteria, so be it.  If they recognize my flaws and even blame me for some of theirs and still love me half as much as I love them, I’m good.  Even so, looking at all the parents on the number line, imagining their path over time from agree to disagree, I couldn’t help feel a little heavier.

This post is dedicated to the true heroes of Newtown and beyond who act courageously and who put the needs of others before their own and who inspire us all to love stronger and fight harder to make changes to keep our loved ones safe.  Here is a fantastic link to learn how to effectively write to Congress in support of gun control legislation.  Here is a site for more information about upcoming  mental health legislation and what you can do to take action.

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  1. Bless you for teaching that day, and for writing about it.

    I preached on Sunday, and didn’t keep it together – and didn’t want to. All our hearts were broken on Friday, and there is more shame in hiding that than in showing it. There is more love in tears, sometimes, than in nearly anything else.

    I learned that from my parents, who are still heroes to me. Less unreservedly, but I think more deservedly than when I was a child.

  2. Beautiful post, Deborah. You made me cry and I know it can’t be because I’m tired because I’ve been drugged and sleeping for three days.

    • As per Eliza’s comment – lots of love in tears. I certainly felt plenty of that love while I was writing it, too.

      Hope you’re out of your drug-induced haze and back on your feet soon!

  3. Great Post! thank you. ps. i am already not Augie’s hero. I am his horror.

    • Thank YOU, Esther for reminding us how the heroes inside us allow us to love unconditionally even though that love may never fully be understood or appreciated.

      Good luck!!

  4. This is lovely and makes me ache. I don’t know if they think I’m a hero, finite, but I know they know I value making a difference and strife to be of service past my comfort zone. My hope is that my many failings help my sons know that even as mere mortals they too can aspire to be heroic.

  5. Leemor Ellman says:

    My Dear Deborah,

    You are gift to have as a co-teacher, co-inspirer, co-motivator, co-dreamer etc, etc. I am nothing but grateful to you for your willingness to listen and collaborate! May we continue this cool thing…

    • I thank you for your kind comment, and I’ll reply in kind when I say that in addition to being a gift of a guide, your students clearly appreciate the gift of Morah Leemor, as well. I’m having a great time walking down this super cool path with you!

  6. Beautiful way to embody a discussion. I do very much consider my parents heroes- they are dedicated people of faith who have devoted their money, time, and energy to teaching, building, healing, and saving lives. This inspired me once again to hope to show my own children the same!

  7. Teaching, building, healing and saving? Yup, heroes. My favorite bit is how their actions inspire you to be a better parent. Sounds like your kids have quite a few fantastic role models.

  8. Hey there, are you sustaining issues with your hosting? I essential had to refresh the page about trillion times to get the page to load. Just saying

    • Many thanks for keeping at it! I’d like to think that it was worth all those refreshes. And hopefully, you’ll not need to make such an effort in the future.

  9. Yep, apparently we were. An outage yesterday for a bit, but it was back up again before too long. Sorry for the hiccup.

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